Saturday 20 October 2018

Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Ukraine

While scanning through the sources of places from where people see my blog, I was surprised to see a sizable number from Ukraine. Thinking them to be Muslims, I decided to find out about Islam in Ukraine and share with my readers.

In a country dominated by the Orthodox and Uniate Christians, Islam is the fourth largest religion in Ukraine, representing almost 1% of the total population of the country. Among the Muslims, the Sunni Islam of the Hanafi schools dominates the other branches / schools of thought of Islam, and and their mufti is regarded as the highest religious figure. The majority of the Muslims are the Crimean Tartars. In 2012 an estimated 500,000 Muslims lived in Ukraine, including 300,000 Crimean Tatars. However, Said Ismagilov, the mufti of Ummah, boats one million Muslims in Ukraine.

Historically, Crimea was the center of the spread of Islam in Ukraine. The presence of Islam in Ukraine is associated with the Crimean Tatars, the Turkic speaking descendants of Turkic and non-Turkic peoples who had settled in Eastern Europe as early as the 7th century. In the 15th century, a Crimean Khanate was established in southern Ukraine. However, after the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the Khanate lost its sovereignty and fell under the influence of the Ottoman Empire. 

The Khanate finally ended after growing Russian influence led to its annexation into the Russian Empire after the Russo-Turkish Wars in the late 18th century. At the time of annexation of the Khanate, its capital of Bakhchysarai had at least 18 mosques. However, the Russian Empire began persecuting the Muslim population, and nearly 160,000 Tatars were forced to leave Crimea.

The oldest masque in Ukraine is the The Tahtali-Jami Mosque located in Bakhchisaray, Crimea.  It was built in 1707 by by Khan Sultan Beck. Since the it was originally constructed with wooden planks which were later closed in by stone blocks and masonry walls. The roof of the mosque is covered with clay tiles, it is called Tahtalı Cami means "wooden mosque" in Crimean Tatar. [3]

At the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917, Muslims constituted one-third of Crimea's population and nearly all major cities in Crimea had significant Muslim population. However, under the Soviet rule, Crimean Muslims were subjected to mass deportation and in 1944 Joseph Stalin accused them of collaborating with Nazi Germany and more than 200,000 Crimean Tatars were deported to Central Asia, primarily the Uzbek SSR. It is estimated that more than 100,000 deportees died of starvation or disease due to the deportation. Although a 1967 Soviet decree removed the wartime collaboration charges against Crimean Tatars, the Soviet government did nothing to facilitate their resettlement in Crimea, and the repatriation of Crimean Tatars to their homeland only began in 1989. 

With the independence of Ukraine from the USSR in 1991, not only the majority Orthodox Christians took a sigh of relief from a Communist domination, the Muslims too felt relieved too, and the return of Crimean Tatars to Crimea has increased compared to the Soviet era. There has also been a proportionally small settlement of Muslim Chechen refugees in Crimea and other parts of Ukraine.

However, due to the 2014 Russia`s annexation of Crimea and the hostilities in eastern Ukraine have kept some 750,000 of Muslims, including a half-million Crimean Tatars, trapped in the occupied territories and unable to maintain ties with others who share their faith in Ukraine. [1]

Comparing the life of Muslims under USSR and present day free Ukraine, Said (mufti of Religious Administration of Muslims of Ukraine "Ummah") Ismagilov says:
“In Russia there is no freedom of speech and thought – every religious community, including Muslims, is controlled by the state and serves Kremlin’s policy. In Ukraine, Crimean Tatars had freedom. They were not told which books to read. They were in charge of choosing their own religious leaders. Everything was democratic.” 
While breathing in a rather free air and  not confronted with problems in their daily lives, and that Muslims have started from the beginning to learn about their religion, Said adds: [2]

"Muslims in smaller cities with smaller communities face more problems as they do not even have places of worship or access to halal food," and "that there are not enough cemeteries for Muslims and that Muslim women had to remove their hijab for their passport pictures." Calling on international Muslim organizations for support in building mosques and Islamic centers in the country, Ismagilov said that it would be essential "for the future of Islam in Ukraine".
Muslim women of Ukraine [Photo]

Speaking as a newly reverted Muslim, Olga Fryndak, presently Deputy head of the Ukrainian Muslimahs League and chief editor in the Information Department of the Islamic Center of Ukraine, describes Ukrainians as “tolerant”, and that she had not faced “big problems” in Ukraine as a Muslim. as for her embracing Islam, she says: [2]
“Islam I knew from my elder sister. At the time she was studying at the university in Kiev and had some Muslim friends. She was the first who gave me the basic information about Islam as a religion. At the time there weren't any Islamic books in Russian.”
Commenting on life as a Muslim Olga Fryndak says::
“Ukrainian people are tolerant in general. We have mosques and Islamic cultural centers in big cities, we have halal meat and products, we can work and pray, we have Muslim organizations and volunteers.” 
"there are also Islamic grammar schools in Kiev and Kharkov, adding that Islamic literature can be published in Ukrainian and Russian."

Said Ismagilov [Photo]

The 37 years old Ismagilov is also a supporter of the idea that Muslims should integrate in the society they live in, and he criticizes Muslims who come to Europe to live in closed communities. Such behavior limits social ambitions, and as a result some young people are easy targets for various terrorist groups, who lure them by promising money and better social prospects, Ismagilov says. They could have had that if they had been well integrated in the societies of their host countries, the mufti says.[1]

As of today, Muslims on Ukrainian territory enjoy all freedoms, as Islamic cultural centers are being opened around Ukraine. The newest one opened its doors in Dnipropetrovsk recently.

Now watch a video clip of Muslims in Ukraine celebrating the Islamic festival of Eid ul Adha (and I was glad to see some Pakistanis, wearing shalwar kameez, the traditional dress of Pakistan men, in Ukraine celebrating Eid with their Ukrainian Muslims)
Are you a Ukranian Muslim reading this post? Do give your feedback on life of Muslims in Ukraine in our comment box.

Photo | Source: Wikipedia | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 |
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